Victorian taxidermy, sprawling views over the city and one of London’s most picturesque Wetherspoons (housed in a 1920s cinema) make Forest Hill well worth a visit. Running alongside a railway that used to be the Croydon Canal, Dartmouth Road is the area’s original high street and a bona fide local gem.
This half-mile stretch, linking Forest Hill proper to the fringes of neighbouring Sydenham, has so far resisted the creep of chain coffee shops and remains almost entirely independent. It’s a timeless pocket of town, dotted with surviving buildings from when the area was first mapped out: Victorian terraces and art deco mansion flats, the revamped Forest Hill Pools, Holy Trinity Primary School, Louise House (a Victorian girls’ institution converted into artists’ studios) and the cherub-covered spires of the public library.
Although 1890s businesses like Thomas Campion’s shoe store and Day’s umbrella shop long ago made way for treat-packed delis and cosy community cafés, the tight-knit community feel of Dartmouth Road has stuck around. Think of it as a less fancy, slightly younger sibling to East Dulwich’s super-popular Lordship Lane. The difference is that the majority of London has yet to catch on.
A rhubarb margarita at The Dartmouth Arms. The area’s oldest pub, it’s such an institution that Forest Hill station was originally named after it.
A G&T in one of the original vaults at the Sylvan Post: a converted 1960s post office.
No-frills pints (mostly under the three-quid mark) in the beer garden at The Bricklayers Arms.
Fluffy sourdough pizzas at Bona, topped off with spicy ’nduja, Sardinian fennel sausage or scamorza (smoked cheese).
Brunch at St David Coffee House on nearby David’s Road for bacon crispier than a Gary Lineker ad and Forest Hill’s finest avocado on toast.
An unbeatably gooey cheese toastie from Aga’s Little Deli. This place is crammed with gourmet selections from London favourite Neal’s Yard Dairy alongside Bath’s The Fine Cheese Co.
Put on your creative hat and sign up for one of Stag & Bow’s workshops. Classes range from spoon-carving to leathercraft.
Settle into one of the booths at retro sweetshop and ice-cream parlour Sugar Mountain, grab a bag of bon bons and work your way through the stacks of Smash Hits annuals and retro board games.
Brave the steep hike up London Road to enjoy the view over London’s jagged skyline from Horniman Gardens. You can also follow the Green Chain Walk from here, winding down through Sydenham Hill Wood to the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park.
Some weekend reading from Leaf and Groove, a secondhand bookshop that raises money to help with the running costs of Forest Hill’s community library.
Pistachio-studded cannoli, cured meats and creamy burrata cheese from Il Mirto, an Italian deli run by the team behind East Dulwich’s restaurant of the same name.
And if you only do one thing…
Duck into the nearby Horniman Museum, round the corner on London Road, and get a selfie with the famously overstuffed walrus. (In fairness, the taxidermist probably hadn’t seen a real walrus.) This strangely lovable beast has been on display for more than a century.
By El Hunt, who felt as stuffed as that walrus after her last trip to Sugar Mountain.